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Friday, October 19, 2012

Ambient fluid color bezels for passive notifications

When I first saw the iMac, the first thing I wondered was whether Apple would ever make them able to change color under software control. All of that clear plastic just looked perfect for having some kind of multi-color fluid system. It would need to be subtle and smooth and glide from one color to the next. It's the same basic idea they already use for their "breathing" LED: instead of making it just go on and off, use pulse width modulation tricks to make it look "soft".

My idea was simple enough: if you could do subtle color changes, then the computer could be rigged to tell you environmental things without being obnoxious about it. Maybe you were keeping an eye on a certain stock, and wanted to know when it started making big changes. Instead of the usual cacophony of beeps and not-really-silent "silent mode" (more like rattle mode), the computer's bezel would just change from a neutral color to another predefined color.

To a casual observer who was visiting your office, it might go completely unnoticed. However, you'd be able to tell that you should wrap up this conversation sooner rather than later because something important just happened. All of this happens without ever having to touch the keyboard or mouse, so your guests don't feel like you are ignoring them to "play with the computer".

Granted, there are other products which already do this kind of "ambient notification" stuff, but they're weird looking and aren't already in your office. They'd probably draw attention to themselves just by being there, and that's the whole thing I'm trying to avoid here. Whether you're talking about one of those glowing multicolor orbs, a Nabaztag wireless rabbit, or something else entirely, those don't look like they belong on a regular desk. Just having it there could be distracting.

However, if your computer slowly changes from beige to yellow over the span of a minute or so, how many people do you think are doing to notice? You'd know to look now and then, but random visitors would still think they have your full and undivided attention.

I wonder if this idea might also make sense for a cell phone. Even if you stack your phone up in a pile in the center of a table with everyone else's phones, you could probably still see if it starts glowing some new color on the side. Again, you'd know whether to let things just roll along or start wrapping them up without visibly checking.

Imagine it: using technology to make your life easier without bothering others in the process. What a concept!